Seeing the good in others and having a heart for local children as well as youngsters in Haiti stems from a quote Yelena Valsea’s mother said to her years ago.
“See the light in others, and treat them as if that is all you see,” Valesa said quoting her mother. “Isn’t that amazing.”
For the last 11 years Valesa, who came to the United States in 1989 from Russia, has been the English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) bi-lingual translator at Parkview Elementary School.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she said. “Working with kids, I never knew it was going to be such a beautiful experience. I have my own kids, but every child you see in the hallway, it’s like a whole other world.”
She said when she began working at the school she wasn’t sure she could do the job.
“I even told Nancy Scott, our superintendent, ‘I’m not sure I’m good with kids,’” Valesa said. “But, she encouraged me. I think that was the best decision I’ve ever made … I know it was given to me by God.
“Working with kids, it just opens your eyes to a lot of things,” she added.
Working with local children led her to Haiti. The impoverished country and its people also changed Valesa and her children’s lives for the better.
“It started in 2011, after the earthquake,” she noted. “I always wanted to go to another country and see if I could be useful. One day I was at the office at Parkview Elementary and Nurse Barb (White), she was talking about mission trips. She said ‘I’m going to Haiti.’”
Valesa said she knew in her heart she should go to Haiti; it was like God was speaking to her soul.
“He told me, ‘It’s your time,’” she said.
Since 2011 she has returned four times with her church Liberty Life, of Sedalia. Valesa now sponsors six Haitian families, and often travels into hard-to-reach places up in the mountains each summer.
“Now my kids are doing that with me,” she added. “I had a wonderful opportunity to take my kids with me this summer. They told me this was the best trip they’d ever had. They don’t want a vacation, they just want to go back to Haiti for the kids.”
Her daughters Elizabeth, 18, Vanessa, 15, and son Jonathan, 9, have all begun to help with orphan children and other families while in Haiti. While there, her children worked in the medical tent and clinic. Between the four of them, they delivered 800 pounds of medical supplies, clothing, toiletries and shoes.
Valesa said Elizabeth is planning to take a “team of teenagers” back to Haiti next summer.
“I never thought I’d have my kids doing this mission work,” she added.
During her stays in Haiti, Valesa has helped in the drilling of water wells and the construction of homes for families while also teaching them how to do these jobs.
“With my families, I also make sure the dad is looking for a job,” she said. “Sometimes all they make is a dollar a day. It’s not just giving them things, but teaching them how to be a good parent.”
Due to the immense poverty in Haiti, she also sends support for children to go to school.
“When you see this, you just can never go back home and relax, and just do things just for yourself,” she said of Haiti’s living conditions.
Often, she sees children who haven’t eaten in three days and has found that education is only for those who have a sponsor.
“Usually I stay there at least a month,” she added. “Next summer, it’s going to be the whole summer.”
Valesa also works at the Citizens Against Spouse Abuse (CASA) shelter and at the Ivory Grille. The extra jobs help supplement her work in Haiti. Both CASA and Ivory Grille allow her to take time off to travel there each summer.
“They are very supportive,” she said. “They give me their blessings.”
One child stands out for her with her work in Haiti.
“You know you are making a difference, you know you are doing this for God … seeing people’s lives change … I’m sorry, I get emotional,” she added while wiping tears.
During her first summer in Haiti, Valesa met little Johnny, an orphan.
“He was 8 when I met him,” she added. “He was an orphan, super skinny and malnourished. His eyes were full of tears and he looked at me and said ‘I want you to be my mommy.’”
She said she is working on adopting Johnny.
“He’s 11-years-old now and we’re still trying,” she added.
She plans to continue “serving” in Haiti for as long as possible.
“I’ve been going back for five years now and just seeing those kids grow up, and they are so happy, and they are so humble and thankful,” she said. “They are such a beautiful people. It’s a wonderful journey … You always enjoy the good things in life and praise God … You always make it to a wonderful destination.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 826-1000 ext. 1481 or @flbemiss.